Solstice = sol (sun) + sistere (to stand)
Anthony Gormley’s, ‘Another Place’, author photograph
The light becomes thinner each day. Not even a month on from the summer solstice and it creeps up, the darkness in the evening warning me that Autumn is just around the corner a knocking on my door. Where did it go, all the light? During the strange time we’ve just come through, the light was bright and the sun was strong just when we needed it. It was no different this year from any other, I know because I’ve tracked it – a good April and maybe May and then an indifferent summer. In my journal the one thing I note day in day out is the weather. Once upon a time I used to say I would go away for the winter, move somewhere with bright white life-giving light, but I have neither the money nor the time to do this, nor as the years go by, do I want to. I like the pathways of the year through the solstice in summer, in winter, tracking time.
In 2012 I wrote a prose poem for an anthology written during the hours leading to the summer solstice. Each writer was given one hour, mine was 5-6am a time I knew well because I used to get up three times a week to drive my daughter to swimming training, three very early mornings, three evenings and every Saturday. My poem was written when I was barely awake, the light was starting its early descent from the height of summer towards winter. It was a time of turning that year, for all of us, just as it is this year. At first I hated it, those early, bleary and barely awake mornings, energy dipping and diving with each mile I drove along the coast road, tracked by the world waking up second by slow second even in winter. Each solstice was a time for rejoicing and joy as the sky threatened or menaced or just cajoled me into thinking the world was awake with me when really it was just waiting to see what I would do. Bushes that were bare one minute in late winter into spring would suddenly sprout white blossom, elderflower slipped into berry in the blink of an eye. Then they’d reverse their journey back into the ground to wait the winter out. A blink and I’d miss it.
Driving along the same road along the coast every day I would notice the way the tide changed subtly. There’s a popular myth that the tide never comes in along the Sefton Coast, particularly at Southport or Formby but that’s untrue. I know because I’ve seen it. Now I know the seasons are changing by the way the sea changes, it gets more angry and listless as the year creeps on. On the morning I wrote the solstice poem the sea was a calm flat line, the sky pinking and glowing. As I was driving northwards, in my sights were the hills of the Lake District, on the way back I was greeted the other way by the Welsh hills; even on a good day you can see Snowdonia although it’s difficult to pick out from the undulating peaks which tip their eyes into the clouds before dipping down again. The distant peak looks like a place filled with story and music and voices calling you back into a past you’ve forgotten even existed. On a calm day you can almost hear them whisper, each time with something different to say.
The summer solstice sneaked up on us when we were indoors this year, behind our barriers, hunkering down so that when we emerged mole-like into the light over these past few weeks it was disappearing fast into the past taking our hopes with it. Everything has changed and it would be nice to say we’ve all had time to notice it – the flowers opening ever so slowly, the grass growing with no one to cut its unruly hair, the birds now fully fledged allowed to run free. In the past few weeks on my walks as I venture further out into the world I’ve seen: a family of mistle- thrush, a falcon, jackdaws unafraid to venture right up to my hand, a baby magpie its feathers tufted like a duster strutting like a cock o’ the walk and a black headed gull that walked tiptoe across the grass tripping sideways as though it was wearing stilettos in a night club. I’ve walked across fields through narrow pathways with crops teasing their way higher each day, wind turbines beating a rhythm to match the pattern of my heartbeat as I move towards the change that is coming.
All this and more – a family of hedgehogs three babies and an adult zig zagging across our night time suburban lawn. The collective noun for hedgehogs: an array (too dull), a collection (really?) the one I like best ‘a prickle’ because that’s how they look, quivering and prickling their way through the grass knowing we are metres away, looking back for Mum and the cat skipping a heart beat over their heads spooked by the strange shapes making their way across the night garden. In an hour or two the cat will bring in some beauty of a moth for us, and we will shout and say ‘get out’ then look for the poor moth to rescue it while the cat sits pale-eyed with a paw beneath the fridge fidgeting it out from where its prey lies quivering.
Writers notice these things, we all notice these things. One by one, they come to light.
Fair Sweet and Quiet
The sketch of a moon in a dawn sky as the day slips in through a slow drip of cloud turned in on itself like the crease of a drowsy bed. Fair, quiet and sweet she is, this child of mine, and I don’t like to wake her, her face bent with sleep in this morning clad house with its cloak of red, indigo and orange. Her eyelids move, open, parting the light in a flutter of synapse and the impulse of nerve endings, the roots of a fire. Now? she asks with bleary eyes and hands pale in the mandolin of moonlight. She pulls the covers back, her day stretching ahead like a fairyland stumbled on by mistake. I watch her, waiting at the water’s edge, a toe in the water, eager to dive in.
Reardon, J. (2012) ‘Solstice, 24 Hours of Poetry’, Beautiful Dragons Press